When you wish upon a binary star


Artist’s impression of the hottest and most massive touching d

This is a story I wrote a couple of years ago, when some young friends were struggling with themselves. Now, it’s different ones having the same issues. Life will feed you some shit sandwiches kids, and you’ll probably do a good job of making your own. But remember, everything happens for a reason: It’s all mapped out. Just be careful what you wish for.

When you wish upon a binary star

A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common centre of mass. Systems of two, three, four, or even more stars are called multiple star systems. These systems, especially when more distant, often appear to the unaided eye as a single point of light, and are then revealed as double (or more) by other means. Research over the last two centuries suggests that half or more of visible stars are part of multiple star systems. (Source: Wikipedia).

It’s at exactly the point when you decide there’s nothing left, when reasons to live evade you and the pull of oblivion is as strong as gravity, that you make an involuntary wish upon a star.

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. This is as much as the girl knows.

She looks at her hands and her arms. One tattoo, gained with the help of fake ID: a love of her life, permanently under her skin. A passing cat scratches them, seemingly un-fazed by the big black dog standing behind the girl. The dog makes no effort to move in any case. Instead it rests its chin on her shoulder. There is a mirror on the far wall, which the girl can see if she rolls her eyes up. She can’t look directly into it because her chin is sewn to her chest. As she looks down, she contemplates her feet: in designer trainers. The trainers are pristine white, but for a blue tick mark to indicate that her feet have been nailed to the floor. The are no windows in the room that she can make out but there is an opening, as she is aware of a draught. The air tastes and smells damp and heavy: an indicator of conditions outside.

Although she’s inside the room, she is able to visualize it from the outside: a grey Portacabin. She could be in any of a number of settings: a spare classroom at a school; a temporary library parked in a local church car park; a polling station; a foreman’s office on a construction site; an incident room set up at the scene of a crime. There is no teacher, librarian, clerk, site manager or detective in the room with her.

She doesn’t know how long she’s been there but she knows it’s been a long time. The words “long” and “time” don’t sit well with her. For long, see far and big: see that which cannot be contemplated, for it contains fear. Like life. An ever-present voice reminds her of the one certainty in life: that one day it will end. If that voice could be there every day for several years to come, she’d rather not listen.

Mere thoughts cause her distress. She doesn’t like to think too much about things but with her movement impeded, she finds her mind wandering. Normally there’d be something to hand to stop this. A review of the life lived so far doesn’t last long: sexual partners, foster care homes and nights spent in police custody, all too numerous to contemplate individually. What would the rest of life hold? Fuck knows; who gives a shit?

A door opens at the back of the room and people file in. The room on either side of the girl fills quickly. Those on the left of her hold pieces of paper in their hands, while those on her right do not. Very soon, a figure passes through the assembled people on the right and hands them each a piece of paper. The figure passes close by and the girl can see that it is a tall, young male, wearing a black track suit and white trainers. From her position with her head bowed, all that she can tell of the others in the room is that they are people. As the distributor finishes and leaves the room, all but a few of those on the right hand side follow.

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. There are quite a lot of people on her left and two or three more on her right. Her feet are nailed to the floor and her chin is stitched to her chest. This is as much as the girl knows.

The door at the back of the room opens periodically and the people to her left shuffle forward, as though they are being pushed by more people arriving behind. The boy in the tracksuit returns.

“What the fuck?”

“Exactly mate.” The girl’s response was reflex.

“No, I mean, what the fuck? It’s a rhetorical question.

“A what?”

“A question asked not for information but to produce an effect. What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I don’t fucking know. What am I doing here?”

“It was another rhetorical question but I’ll tell you how you got here: you wished upon a star.”

“Fuck off did I.”

“You did, without realising it. You’re actually capable of a lot of things you may not realise. Beautiful dreams but also, terrible nightmares.”

“Yeah, I know about them.”

“It was in one that you came here.”

“Yeah, where the fuck is this?”

“I’ll cut your ties, so that you can see. Before I do, I have to tell you that you may only look at me. You must not look at the other people in this room. You are also free to leave at any time but I suspect that you have questions. You may ask as many questions as you want but you must ask each one only once. I will answer your questions as honestly as I am able to and some of what I say may not make sense at first. You need to consider my answers and not dismiss them. You are free to leave.”

“But you ain’t done nothing.”

“You perceive me to have done nothing. Your bonds were metaphorical.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“I shan’t answer that.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you paused for thought, you’d realise you didn’t have to ask. Your bonds were never there in a physical sense. You can move now. You’re looking directly at me.” To her surprise, her head had naturally drifted up and she could now see the boy’s face. “You are free to go”, the boy repeated.

“Nah, it’s alright. You’re quite fit mate. You remind me of someone.”

“Proving that you are both deep and shallow.”

The girl felt lost but found, in limbo beween the two. Was this purgatory?

“Proving you don’t make sense mate.”

“Until you take the time to consider my words. Do you know who I am?”

“A pretentious cunt if you have to ask.”

“How did one like you come to be in a place like this?”

“I don’t know. Where the fuck is this?”

“It doesn’t matter so much where it is, as when it is. This is your funeral. Actually, it’s two versions of your funeral. On your right is the congregation at your funeral if it were to be taking place now. To your left are people gathering for your funeral in the future. I realise that could take a while to sink in, so I’ll try to explain. Bear with me and I’ll probably answer more of your questions as I go along.

“You arrived at a point in your life where you were despairing. You weren’t getting the answers you wanted to your questions but you didn’t stop to wonder if you were asking the right questions. You’d fallen asleep, wishing that you were dead, as you have in the past. Normally, that sort of wish would be passed to a star and it would be decided if your wish should be granted as you slept. It’s a lovely paradox if you think about it. The problem is, you had two wishes: you’re so egotistical that you wished you could see who turned up for your funeral. Insecurity and vanity. Two wishes, each needing a star. So yours came to a binary star.”

“Who are you?”

“I could ask you the same. You might even ask the same question of yourself. I shall tell you only what you need to know of me. I have no name, or at least nothing you would recognise as such. Neither would I be recognisable to you if I hadn’t taken on this appearance. We figured this would make things easier for you. You are asleep, or at least you’re at that stage between wakefulness and sleep which you never remember: that’s where we live, or that’s how we find you. You can think of us as certain things which you may believe exist but can’t prove: ghosts, spirits, aliens… We’re sentinels; messengers carrying knowledge. The knowledge which we possess is too much for many to comprehend. That’s when people pass away in their sleep. They are the weak. Once they pass, they cross over to us, where they may better gain knowledge. The knowledge is inescapable. Who am I to you? Someone you recognise. Someone who could be in the congregation to your left, because our paths have crossed.

“Who are you? To me, you are a soul: a troubled one, with many questions and one of many such souls. To yourself you are a relative stranger and it doesn’t matter what happens to strangers because it’s not your problem: you’re so contradictory. You’re not old enough to know yourself yet, as you’ve not known yourself for long enough. That’s why you’re unsure of your age: because things haven’t changed in so long that you may as well be anywhere within a certain range. Your range may even expand. Some of the more interesting people we meet don’t know in their twenties what they want to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting forty-year-olds we’ve met, still don’t.

“The funeral which will soon take place on your right – if you don’t wake up – is being attended by people you’ve met up until this point in your life. To be honest, I’m amazed some of them even made it here. As people arrived, I gave them an order of service for your funeral. Inside the orders of service were vouchers for once-only entrance to a club, called Sirens. For the boys, there’s the promise of girls so attractive that they have to be kept out of sight. For the girls it’s boys who have to be concealed from view. LGBT isn’t excluded of course but it’s academic when you think about it. The funeral on your left will take place at some point in the future. You may not look at the people congregated there because some of them may not exist yet: imagine that side of the room in fast-forward mode, whilst you are paused. We can control time and see the future as well as having knowledge of everything past. It’s likely that there are people to your left who you wouldn’t recognise. There may be some you do, who you hoped wouldn’t be there. Conversely, others may not be there who you thought might. Some may not make it as far in life as you do and it could be you attending their funerals instead. You must not know and you must take certain things on blind faith. Our paths have crossed and may do so again.

“Of course the future funeral scenario will require you to wake up. When you do, you may or may not remember this. If you do, it’s probably a good idea to keep it quiet. Others have remembered their encounters with us and bored still others with stories which they can’t prove: there’s the paradox again. One guy even wrote a book about us. Don’t get branded a nut. Questions?”

“Fuck knows. I’m fucking listening though, ain’t I?”

“Am I not.”

“Fuck off, cunt. So all this shit: it’s a bit fucking dramatic ain’t it?”

“It worked: you listened and you didn’t run away.”

“Yeah, because you had me fucking stitched up and nailed down.”

“No, we didn’t. Think back. You’re still here because you want to find out more about this life which you’re questioning the validity of. And here’s another paradox: the only place where you can see ahead in time is here, yet here is where we take people from their sleep, that becoming easier the more curious they are and the longer their stay.”

“Can I go now then?”

“Any time you like. I was just going to give you a few things to think about. You are free to leave when you please, so I may as well keep talking for as long as you’re here.

“In the larger part of your life which you’re yet to lead, how can you say now that you may not finally one day find a real passion for a person or a thing? You’ll never know for sure and there’s every chance that the future holds something for you. So it’s a big leap to take without careful consideration. Is it okay to give up? That’s a very large responsibility to offload. It’s the biggest choice you’ll ever make and I can’t make it for you.

“As an atheist in the human form, I’d have extremely low expectations of the rest of eternity. That seems to me a very good reason not to rush into it. Life as you know it is at least a known quantity. It has ups and downs; textured, often surprising and scattered with some really quite sensational moments. Do you think you’ve had your allotted share?

“This too shall pass.”

“You speak in such riddles.”

“I choose my words in such a way as to encourage you to think. This too shall pass is an undeniable truth. Think about those four words alone:

“This: not that. Concentrate on the present and that which you have control of.

“Too: as well. Other things passed and so too shall this and more to come.

“Shall: it will. It did before and it will again.

“Pass: it will be gone, like so much else. More will come and then we repeat. That’s life. Four words.


A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. This is as much as the girl knows.

© Steve Laker, 2014


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